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‘A real free press for the first time in history': WikiLeaks editor speaks out in London

Julian Assange, editor of whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, has criticised mainstream media for not making proper use of “primary resources” and claimed that the site has created “a real free press (…) for the first time in history”.

Speaking at the Centre for Investigative Journalism Summer School at City University London on Friday, Assange accused the media of failing to consult important evidence in its reporting of a 2007 US Air Force strike that killed two Reuters news service employees and several Iraqi civilians.

The attack became infamous after a video of the event was leaked through WikiLeaks, entitled Collateral Murder. The footage was recorded by one of two Apache helicopters involved in the attack.

Showing an alleged copy of the US Military’s 2007 rules of engagement hosted on WikiLeaks, Assange said: “We had the raw ingredients you needed to decide right there. Why didn’t they use them?

“No one can be bothered to look up the term ‘positive identification’ to see what it actually is.”

Assange argues that it is clear from the document that the Apache pilot broke the rules of engagement. He said journalism needed to work towards making more primary source material such as this available online, arguing that this was the standard process for scientific investigations and that it should be the same for journalism.

You can’t publish a paper on physics without the full experimental data and results, that should be the standard in journalism.

You can’t do it in newspapers because there isn’t enough space, but now with the internet there is.

Last week, Private First Class Bradley E. Manning, who is accused of leaking the video along with tens of thousands of classified State Department cables, was charged by the U.S. Army with mishandling and transferring classified information. Assange will not attempt to enter the US for fear he might be subject to a subpoena concerning Manning’s leaks.

Citing another of the site’s leaks, concerning Carribean tax haven the Turks and Caicos islands, Assange praised the anti-corruption reporting of online-only, local news outlet the Turks and Caicos Journal, which he said was hounded out of several countries after law firms threatened its internet service providers (ISPs).

Warning of a new “privatised censorship”, he said that the Journal’s Googlemail account had been subpoened under US law and that Google agreed to surrender details of the news outlet’s account, at which point WikiLeaks stepped in to provide a defence attorney.

He heavily criticised the search engine company for its behaviour in the TCI Journal case, and challenged the actions of ISPs in India, Japan and the US for allegedly agreeing to cut the Journal’s internet access rather than risk incurring legal costs. According to Assange, Googlemail is a completely insecure way of storing information. He claimed that the Guardian had recently transferred all of its internal email over to the Google service.

Alongside the TCI Journal there was praise reserved for Time magazine for publishing an extensive investigation into the Church of Scientology and defending its investigation at a cost of millions dollars, but with potential costs so high, Assange asked, “what are the incentives for publishers?” WikiLeaks were themselves threatened with legal action by the Church after publishing secret documents relating to its “Operating Thetan Level” practices. The whistleblowing site responded by saying “in response to the attempted suppression, WikiLeaks will release several thousand additional pages of Scientology material next week.”

Asked about WikiLeaks’ funding, he said the site has so far raised $1 million dollars in donations but revealed it had had an application for a $650,000 grant rejected by the 2009 Knight News Foundation, despite being “the highest-rated applicant out of 3,000″, and heavily implied it was a politically-motivated decision.

Earlier this year, WikiLeaks put forward a proposal in conjunction with Icelandic MPs to create a safe-haven for publishers – and their servers – in the country. Last month the proposal, known as the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), was passed by parliament and will change Icelandic law, aiming to increase the protection afforded journalists, sources and leakers.

Image courtesy of Cirt on Wikimedia Commons

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DocumentCloud still looking for more collaborators; will build on Amazon Web Services

Last week we reported on DocumentCloud’s new partner, Thomson Reuters and its long list of ‘beta-testers’ including one from the UK – the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) based at City University, London.

To re-cap, DocumentCloud is a an open-source platform to make data more easily accessible, pointing users to documents hosted elsewhere, similar to a card cataloguing system or search engine. Only in rare circumstances will DocumentCloud serve the documents itself.

We asked one of its founders, Scott Klein, about the next steps for the project, a winner of the Knight News Challenge 2009.
cloudcrowd.jpg_resized_300_240.jpeg

So why use Thomson Reuter’s OpenCalais?

[SK]“OpenCalais will, as documents are entering our system, find ‘entities’ (people, places, organisations) in them and hand them back to our servers as machine-readable swath of information, which we’ll store and index, and make available for people to query. The process will happen in real-time, and will be a big part of how we relate documents to each other.”

Will you look to partner other large organisations like Thomson Reuters?

“Yes, definitely. We intend to rely heavily on Amazon’s Web Services infrastructure – namely, their Elastic Computing Cloud and Elastic Block Store services, and Amazon has been very enthusiastic about working with us.

“As for other partners, we have a wish list of companies and technologies we think would work well with DocumentCloud. But we’re also happy to talk to anybody who is interested in contributing technology. We don’t imagine that we have all the answers or that we have to invent everything that goes into this.”

What’s next in the development / collaboration pipeline?

“[As reported by Journalism.co.uk] A few weeks ago, we released under an open-source license a major component of our document processing system, an easy-to-use parallel-processing framework for Ruby on Rails called CloudCrowd. Next we’ll start tackling other big components, such as the hosting infrastructure and user interface.”

Will you be hiring any more staff – we see you’ve appointed your lead programmer?

“Yes, we’re on the hunt for some contract staff to work on building out our infrastructure, and on our visual design/user experience.”

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Goodbye City University: @amonck reflects on four years as journalism head

July 9th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Journalism, Training

As reported in May,  Adrian Monck is to leave his position as head of journalism at City University, London after four years, to lead the communications team for the World Economic Forum, which holds the annual meeting for global leaders in Davos, Switzerland. Today, he bids farewell to City in this blog post, originally published here.

Although I’ll be haunting College Building for the next week or so, today is my leaving drinks (or ‘glad you’re gone’ party as we used to call them).

I’ll be keeping up a link with the place as a prof, and I’ll be trying to bash out a PhD. And I’ll also be giving a modest sum for the highest scoring MA project, which will be a prize in memory of Richard Wild. The first £250 will be handed out this autumn, so any City students reading: heads down for the finishing line!

Since I came to City in 2005, we’ve launched an MA in Journalism with new pathways in science and investigation, a Masters in Political Campaigning and Reporting, an MA in Creative Writing Non-Fiction, and a BA in Journalism. We’ve gained some fantastic new staff to go alongside the existing terrific team, including the Guardian’s David Leigh, Channel 4’s David Lloyd, ITN‘s Penny Marshall and visiting fellows like Heather Brooke and tech guru Robin Hamman. We have a distinguished scholar as head of research, Professor Howard Tumber, and we’ve just appointed Britain’s first professor of financial reporting, a chair in honour of Marjorie Deane (expect more on financial journalism soon).

We brought the Centre for Investigative Journalism to City, and its successful summer schools and hopefully there’ll be new initiatives to announce in that area soon.

We’ve established a digital core to our curriculum – there should be a partnership with Nokia coming up in the autumn.

And this year we finally moved into multi-million pound facilities (on Flickr) worthy of the talents of the people who teach and study here. And we have a Graduate School of Journalism to go alongside the best anywhere has to offer.

Best of all, I’ve witnessed the annual progression of an extraordinary group of people who’ve joined us from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, and from Lancashire to Lagos – our students. Their qualities are what make so many people want to give up time to teach here. Their enthusiasms and passions are among the rewards.

It’s not all been plain sailing, as anyone who’s brushed up against me will doubtless agree. But I hope it’s been worth it. City is now, more than ever, a global school for journalism, bringing in people from around the world to share experiences and gain new insights. Its future is already being mapped out in areas like political and humanitarian campaigning, and in deepening specialist knowledge amongst those competing to enter what is still an extraordinarily privileged world.

And the privilege of journalism? It’s the privilege of speech. Maybe it’s narcissistic, maybe it’s worth dying for.

But despite our disagreements (and let’s be honest, academics have to be able to start arguments with themselves) it’s what unites me with colleagues in education, in the news business, and with new friends and acquaintances in the ever-widening world beyond.

So, with whatever voice you choose, keep speaking up.

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What would a UK-based ProPublica look like?

April 6th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Online Journalism

In today’s MediaGuardian, City University of New York (CUNY) journalism professor Jeff Jarvis writes that that foundations will not take over newspapers, à la Scott Trust / Guardian relationship. He told Journalism.co.uk: “It is an empty hope for white knights to save news from inevitable change and business reality. But he says: “We’ll see foundation and public support able to fund a decent number of investigations.”

Yesterday, Journalism.co.uk published comments from New York University (NYU) professor, Jay Rosen, and ProPublica’s managing editor, Stephen Engelberg, as well as from Jarvis in a feature looking at the sustainability of ‘lump sum’ funded journalism – they all said that the point was not to look at ‘one solution’ but at a hybrid of funding opportunities (an issue picked up by Julie Starr here.)

US-based ProPublica, funded by the Sandler Foundation, for example, employs full-time journalists to conduct investigations which are then supplied to other media bodies. Journalism.co.uk raised the point with some of the NYJournalism interviewees (fuller features forthcoming) that similar foundation funding is a bit trickier to come by in the UK: just what would a UK version of ProPublica look like and could it be funded?

Would the equivalent of ProPublica work over here? Or, for that matter, something in the mould of Spot.Us, New America Media, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, or the Center for Public Integrity?

Last week the Guardian’s Stephen Moss mentioned Paul Bradshaw’s new project, HelpMeInvestigate.com in his giant G2 feature on the troubled regional newspaper industry. It’s a proposal not quite on the scale of ProPublica, which has an annual operating budget of $10 million, and it’s seen success so far, making it to third stage of the (American) Knight News Challenge 2009 and it awaits news of further progress.

How about existing organisations in the UK? There’s the Centre for Investigative Journalism with its annual summer school, but it doesn’t run and supply investigations in the way ProPublica does. There’s MySociety which can help journalists with stories, but is not designed as a primarily journalistic venture.

Author of Flat Earth News, Nick Davies, has previously told the Press Gazette (which has just announced its last issue) about his idea of models of ‘mini-media’.

“It may be that we are looking at funding mini-media or a foundation that will give money to groups of journalists if they can pass the quality threshold,” Davies said at an National Union of Journalists (NUJ) event in January, as Press Gazette reported.

“The greatest question in journalism today is what will be our ‘third source’ of funding,” Davies told Journalism.co.uk last week.

“If advertising and circulation can no longer pay for our editorial operation, we have to find this third source.

“I suspect that place by place and case by case, the answer to the question will be different, a matter of wrapping up whatever package of cash is possible, using donations or grants or sponsorship or micropayments from foundations, rich individuals, local councils, businesses, NGOs, universities – anybody who can understand that the collapse of newspapers is not just about journalists losing their jobs but about everybody losing an essential source of information.

“And in an ideal world, central government would lead the way by setting up a New Media Fund to provide seed money to help these non-profit mini-media to establish themselves and to find their particular third source.”

So could a third source-funded model work? And what shape would it take? It’s a question Journalism.co.uk will continue to ask. Please share your thoughts below.

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CIJ creates new online tools for investigative journalists

January 19th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Handy tools and technology, Journalism

The Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) has been busy creating some new resources for journalists working in the field.

For starters you can subscribe to the centre’s delicious links, which can be viewed by date using the following format http://delicious.com/cijournalism/19_Jan_09 or subscribed to via RSS. Anyone who wants to subscribe through email should contact cij@city.ac.uk.

Links and occasional posts will also be published at the new CIJ blog.

This is all part of the CIJ’s current awareness policy – outlined by CIJ’s Murray Dick in this blog post, in which he says:

“At the CIJ, we need to keep up-to-speed on examples of excellence in investigative journalism, for a number of reasons.” These include:

  • “The need to reach out to investigative researchers (and other interested parties, like whistle blowers and journalism students) wherever they are, to offer our help and services.
  • “The need to develop our current contacts.
  • “The need to keep track on journalists who are new to the field, to supplement our speakers.
  • “The need to keep track on trends in investigative research, FOI, Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR), and new fields as they arise, which will help CIJ policy as it applies to our training and events.

“Relying on our own reading in the field is fine, but there is a whole world of new – and old – media out there which we could do with keeping on top of, not to mention people we haven’t heard of yet. A comprehensive approach is needed to make sure we don’t fall behind in the field.”

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